Glossary of numismatics
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This article is a collection of numismatic and coin collecting terms with concise explanation for the beginner or professional.
Numismatics (ancient Greek: νομισματική, meaning "monetary") is the scientific study of money and its history in all its varied forms. While numismatists are often characterized as studying coins, the discipline also includes the study of banknotes, stock certificates, medals, medallions, and tokens (also referred to as Exonumia).
Sub-fields or related fields of numismatics are:
- The filing down of a blank to the correct weight before striking, shown by file marks. File marks are often still visible on the surface of a coin even after being struck.
- Coins minted by two or more state governments in conjunction. The Euro coins would be an example of this.
- Homogeneous mixture of two or more elements, where the resulting compound has metallic properties. Common coin alloys include cupro-nickel (copper and nickel) and bronze (copper and tin).
- False date put on a coin to defraud collectors, usually to make it appear more valuable. Such alterations are often easily spotted with the aid of a magnifying glass.
- Coin without an inscription. Many ancient coins used only a simple picture of an animal to show value or weight.
- Process of heating and cooling metal in order to relieve stresses. This is often done with coin blanks to make the metal less brittle before striking.
- Test to ascertain the weight and purity of a coin.
- Identifier of a coin such as date, mint, denomination, or variety.
- Surface mark, or nick, on a coin usually from contact with other coins in a mint bag. More often seen on large gold or silver coins. Also called "contact marks".
- A small countermark applied to a coin by a bank or a trader indicating that they consider the coin to be genuine and of legal weight. Most often found on ancient and medieval coins, but also on silver coins which circulated in China and Japan, where they are referred to as chop-marks.
- Non-precious metal or alloy containing no gold or silver. Common base metals used in coinage include nickel and copper.
- Raised dot border along the rim of a coin.
- Low-grade alloy of gold or silver with a high percentage of another metal, usually copper. Billon is often the result of a sudden debasing of circulating silver coinage due to hyperinflation.
- A coin with one type of metal in the center with an outer ring of a different metal. Examples are the 1 and 2 Euro coins and the Canadian "toonie" two-dollar coin.
- Prepared disk of metal on which the coin design will be stamped. Also called a 'planchet' or 'flan'. In practice, 'Blank' is also referred to the un-struck or flat side of a uniface coin or medal.
- Copper based alloy with zinc.
- Originally referring to metal wasted in coin production, now means coins struck when the previous coin remains stuck to a die, creating an incuse impression in the next struck coin (primarily found in ancient coins).
- Copper based alloy with tin.
- Precious metals (platinum, gold and silver) in the form of bars, ingots or plate, or where quantity is considered as a valuation.
- Precious metals in the form of coins whose market value is determined by metallic content rather than scarcity.
- Current market value of the raw precious metal content of a coin. For example, the bullion value for Canadian silver coins, 1920 to 1966, is 12 times the face value when silver is $20.00 per troy ounce.
- A coin intended for everyday use in commerce.
- Strong distinction in the surface appearance of foreground devices relative to the field. Proof coins often exhibit this feature.
- Unit measurement of the weight of precious stones. Usually marked 'c' or 'car'. 1 carat = 200 milligrams. Not to be confused with 'Karat' used with gold (see below).
- Coins produced by pouring metal into a mold. Used for the first Ancient Roman bronze "As" coins and Chinese "cash" coins, but rarely used today. Modern counterfeit coins are often cast.
- One one-hundredth of the basic monetary unit from Latin. The English cent, Romance languages centavos, centimos, centesimos or centimes are one hundredth of a base unit like dollar, euro, peso etc.
- Coin that has been graded and authenticated by one of numerous independent grading services. See also Encapsulated coin.
- See Banker's Mark.
- Also known as Communion Tokens, they were generally issued initially by Scottish parishes (die stamped one-side only to show the parish) and later in USA and Canada; they were square or oblong, and were made of lead, iron or brass and measured 1/4" to 1".
- Term used to indicate a coin that has wear.
- Issues of coins that contain a center core and outer layer of differing metals or alloys bonded together. The current U.S. Quarter, dime, and half dollar are made of cupronickel clad copper.
- A method of striking in which the obverse and reverse dies are aligned 180 degrees from each other. All American coins are struck this way.
- Outer ring of the die chamber that holds the blank in place while the obverse and reverse are being stamped.
- Minor abrasions on uncirculated coinage created by contact with other coins. Also called "bag marks".
Countermark or Counterstamp
- Partial or complete over-stamping of a coin or token in order to change its value or issuing authority, or to display an advertisement, political slogan or symbol, etc. Stamping may consist of a number (value), symbol (authority), letters (advertisement or slogan), or any combination of the above.
- Large coin often struck in precious metal. Modern crowns are usually not highly circulated due to being too large and/or too heavy. The United States's last crown-sized coin for circulation was the Eisenhower Dollar, last struck in 1978.
- A defect from a chipped die.
- To lower the silver/gold value of the coin by altering its purity, but with the same face value as the pure coin. This often happens during periods of high inflation.
- Small toothlike projecting points on the inside edge of coins.
- Artist or creator of a coin's design.
- Pattern or emblem used in the design of a coin.
- Metal piece engraved with the design used for stamping the coin.
- Caused when a coin planchet fails to be placed between two dies during the minting process, causing the dies to smash together. The design of one or both may impress into the opposite die, causing a "shadow" of the design to appear on subsequent coins minted with the damaged dies. The impact of the two dies may also result in die cracks or defects.
- Fine raised line on a coin that was caused by a crack in the die.
- Imperfection of various sorts caused by a damaged die. May refer to a crack or clash or a chip out of the die, etc. A defect from a chipped die is called a cud.
- The combination of a particular obverse and reverse set of dies. If one die is replaced a new die marriage is created.
- A variation in appearance to a coin struck by a single die, resulting from wear or alteration of the die. For example, the presence or absence of die cracks may signal a specific die state.
- Minor variation in a die, including repunched mintmarks, doubling, or deliberate minor changes to the die design.
- United States $0.10 coin. While the term is American in origin, Canadians often use the term as well.
- Chemical cleaning of a coin with a diluted acid. This "cleanliness" is a result of the surface of the coin being dissolved by the acid. Dipped coins almost always have a lower numismatic value than when they were in their former "dirty" state hence most numismatists do not recommend dipping or any other method of cleaning coins as this will reduce the coin's value.
Double Eagle (U.S.A.)
- United States gold $20 coin. Struck from 1850 to 1933.
Example of extreme doubling on the date of a coin
- A coin where a die is struck, bounced, then struck again, offset from first strike (used for ancient coins where hubs were not used).
- Die that received two misaligned impressions from a hub; more commonly, a coin struck by such a die.
- Popular name of a Spanish gold coin originally valued at 4 dollars. The formal term was "2 escudos".
- Centre of the holey dollar with a value of fifteen pence.
- United States $10.00 gold coin minted from 1795 – 1933.
- Series of US Bullion coins minted from 1986 through the present.
- Rim of a coin often containing a series of reeds, lettering or other decoration.
- Large French silver coin made during the end of the monarchy. Also proposed European currency unit.
- The image or likeness of a person, usually on the obverse of a coin or medal.
- Reproduction made by electrodeposition frequently used in museum displays.
- Artificial or naturally occurring mixture of gold and silver used in some of the world's first coinage.
- An oval medalet produced by a roller die using a coin, token or medal as a planchet, usually a cent.
- A coin that has been authenticated, graded and enclosed in plastic by an independent service.
- Person who cuts the image of a design onto a die.
- Usually a mis-made coin not intended for circulation, but can also refer to an engraving or die-cutting error not discovered until the coins are released to circulation. The mis-made coin errors are usually unique, but the engraving errors appear on all of the coins produced until the error is corrected. This may result in two or more varieties of the coin in the same year.
- A trial strike, also in currency a strike intended to test the design.
- A segment of the coin design separated by a line (usually indicating the ground in the design) in which a legend is placed/inscribed.
- Value that is written on a coin. For example, an American 1 cent coin has a face value of 1 cent. A collectable coin or bullion coin is usually worth many times its face value.
- Generally a representation of a rare or never issued coin.
- Background area of a coin not used for a design or inscription.
- Coin that is very worn and/or damaged, but may still be included in a collection if it is a Key Coin.
- Purity of precious metal content expressed in terms of one thousand parts. 90% is expressed as .900 fine. The purest gold bullion coin is .99999 fine.
- Blank metal piece before striking, also called a planchet or blank.
Fleur de coin (FDC)
- Coin of exceptionally high quality, where quality is determined not just by wear of the coin in circulation but also by the wear and artistic quality of the dies from which it was minted. These factors are crucial for ancient coinage where variability was higher than in modern mints. See also Grade.
- An error caused by the coin flipping over after being struck, and then struck a second time. Each face of the coin will have a "ghost" of the opposite face.
- Coin of exceptionally high condition, such as Gem Uncirculated or Gem Proof.
- The condition of a coin or amount of wear that a coin has received. Common grade terms used in North America, from worst to best, are Poor (Po), Fair (Fr), About Good (AG), Good (G), Very Good (VG), Fine (F), Very Fine (VF), Extra/Extremely Fine (EF or XF), Almost Uncirculated (AU), Uncirculated (UNC), and Brilliant Uncirculated (BU). Grading criteria may also include color, strength of strike, and "eye appeal".
- A coin that has been struck by hand, using dies and a hammer.
- A coin with the raised design high above the field. Coins struck in high relief often have problems with details not coming up sharp enough and dies having a shorter than usual lifespan. If the design is higher than the rim, the coin may not be stackable, and the highest points of the design will wear away very quickly.
Holey dollar (Australia)
- Spanish 8 Real coin with a hole in centre, stamped with New South Wales 1813 on obverse and five shilling on reverse.
- Positive-image punch that impresses the coin's design onto a die.
- Part of the coin's design that has been impressed below the surface (intaglio). Not as popular as the "relief" method due to difficulty striking clearly and shorter lifespan of dies.
- Bar of pure metal formed by pouring the molten metal into a mould. It may be stamped with its weight and purity.
- Lettering and wording on a coin.
- Current market value of a coin based on its metallic content. For a coin struck on precious metals, this is the same as its bullion value.
- Unit measurement of the purity of gold. Usually marked 'K', or 'k'. 24K = pure gold, 18K = .750 fine. Not to be confused with 'Carat' used with precious stones (see above). Note that both originally referred to the seed of the carob tree ('Ceratonia siliqua' or 'Siliqua Graeca'). A Roman coin called the solidus weighed 24 'carats' or 'siliquae', 1/6 of a scruple; this became the standard of purity in western Europe.
- A rarer or higher valued coin within a series. As an example, 1923 and 1925 are key coins in the Canadian small cent series.
- A style of coin portraiture started in ancient Rome whose coins often showed the Emperor's head crowned with a laurel wreath. The American Barber coins from 1892 to 1915 and the first portrait of Queen Elizabeth II used in Great Britain from 1953 to 1967 are modern examples.
- Coins or currency which must be accepted in payment of debt.
- Principal inscription on a coin.
- The outside edge of a coin containing an inscription.
- A coin with the raised design not very high above the field.
- Appearance of a coin's ability to reflect light; brilliance. Percentage of the original mint luster is one of the factors in determining grades of "Mint State" coins (e.g. MS-60, MS-65).
- Original die from which working hubs are made.
- An annual gift made on Maundy Thursday of a set of pure silver coins made by the Royal Mint and distributed personally by the monarch to the poor of Canterbury. The number of sets distributed reflects the age of the monarch at the time.
- A method of striking coins in which both the obverse and reverse dies are aligned in the same direction. Most Canadian coins are struck this way.
- See NCLT.
- Machine-struck coinage. In contrast to hammered coinage and cast coinage.
- Edge of a coin with grooved lines around the perimeter. Also known as a reeded edge.
- Defective coin produced by a mint.
- Shiny "frost" on the surface of an uncirculated or mint state coin.
- Small letter (or other symbol) indicating at which mint the coin was struck. Examples are "S" for San Francisco on US coins or "A" for Paris on French coins.
- Newly minted coins wrapped in rolls of a certain quantity, by the mint or issuing authority.
- Set of uncirculated coins packaged and sold by the mint.
Mint State (MS)
- Another word for "Uncirculated" or "Fleur de Coin", usually used in North America. Conditions range from MS-60 to MS-70.
- Off centre striking of a coin.
- Large plastic shipping boxes for silver bullion coins, holding 500 coins. US Silver Eagles are shipped in green monster boxes while Canadian Maple Leafs are shipped in red monster boxes.
- Inspirational phrase or wording. Examples include "In God we Trust" on US coins or "Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite" on French coins.
- Coin struck from two dies never intended to be used together.
- Non circulating legal tender. These coins are issued in "limited editions" for collectors, and sold for far more than their face value. While these coins are technically legal tender, their bullion value usually far exceeds their face value.
- Front or heads side of coin.
- Shown date made by superimposing numbers on a previously dated die.
- Coin in worse condition than stated.
- Impression with new dies on a previously struck coin.
(pattern) and piedfort
- Coin minted from official dies that is not a regular issue, and intended to evaluate new alloys or designs. Patterns can be divided in three categories:
- Pattern: A coin which represents a new design, motto, or denomination, proposed but not adopted, at least for the same year. Most of the unadopted designs fit into this modality.
- Die trials: Coins made with the regular issue dies, in metals other than the proper. Usually minted to verify details of a new coin, value or design.
- Experimental pieces: Very similar process to "die trials", but with subtle differences. A coin minted with a die, official or not, to try a new metal, alloy, or shape.
- Surface film caused by oxidation, usually green or brown, mostly found on older silver, copper or bronze coins.
- Record of previous owners of a rare coin.
- A coin struck on a planchet that is thicker than normal, typically twice as thick. "Piefort" is a common misspelling.
- Blank prepared piece of metal on which the coin is struck.
- The obverse (front-side) image.
- Small mark, often hidden, on a coin, traditionally to indicate the mintmaster or moneyer.
- Coins declared legal tender even though they are not issued by the sovereign, but by another sovereign.
- Coins specially struck for collectors using polished dies and planchets. The resulting coins usually have a mirror field and raised areas are frosted in appearance.
- Set of proof coins packaged and sold by the mint.
- Coin struck from 'punching' the coin with symbols or seal. Ex: Five punch marked coins of ancient India. Punch marks generally represent animals, tree, hills, and human figures. These coins were issued by royal authority and generally marked with banker's punches on the reverse.
- United States or Canada $0.25 coin. Short for Quarter Dollar.
Quarter Eagle (U.S.A.)
- United States gold $2.50 coin.
- Coin that has not been encapsulated by any coin grading service.
- Edge of a coin with grooved lines around the perimeter. Also known as a milled edge.
- Part of the coin's design that is raised above the field, opposite of "incuse".
- Coin struck from genuine dies at a date later than the original issue. Some of the 1804 US Silver Dollars were restrikes.
- A coin variety on which the puncheon with which the date is applied to the hub has been used a second time, often to cover a first, failed attempt.
- Back or tails side of the coin. Opposite of 'Obverse'.
- A proof coin that has its fields frosted and the design and lettering with a mirror finish. Standard proof cons have the fields mirrored and the design and lettering frosted.
- Raised portion of the design along the edge that protects the coin from wear. It also makes the coins stackable and easy to roll by machine.
- Round one ounce bullion piece, generally issued privately.
- Set of years coin was minted with a specific design and denomination.
- One Roman scruple = 1/24 Roman uncia; the modern (nominal) estimate of the weight of the Roman scruple is 1.125 g.
- The difference between the face value of a money and the cost to produce and distribute it. When a government issues new coinage, it earns the seigniorage in profit (or loss if negative).
- A one-dollar coin minted in the U.S. (until 1935), and Canada (until 1967). Dollar coins made after those dates are sometimes called "silver dollars" although they are actually made of nickel or other metal. Dollar coins struck in Canada since 1987 are more commonly referred to as loonies because of the loon design on the reverse.
- Plastic case containing a coin that has been graded and encapsulated.
- Coin issued in Spain and its colonies from 1497 to 1864. Equal to 8 reales. Also known as a 'piece of eight'. It was legal tender in the United States until 1857.
- Quoted market value of one troy ounce of a precious metal in bullion form.
- A combination of iron, carbon and another element, usually chromium, to prevent rusting. Coins struck on stainless steel are very durable and maintain their shiny appearance, but the hardness of the metal requires that the coins have a low relief in order to prolong die life.
A rare and historic Bechuanaland
Border Police canteen token.
- Privately issued piece that has redeemable value for goods or services, but is not an official government coin. An example would be subway tokens.
- A type of brass that was used to make Canadian 5 cent coins in 1942 and 1943. There was a shortage of the usual nickel due to World War II. A shortage of copper forced a switch to Chromium plated steel in 1944.
- Silver dollar issued specifically for trade with a foreign country.
- Sharply cut off bottom edge of a portrait or bust. The coin engraver's initials are often found on the truncation.
- Coin's basic distinguishing design.
- One of each coin of a particular design, series or period.
- Coin that has never been used, thus retaining all or most of its original luster.
- A coin struck with the design on one side only.
- A proposed United States gold coin worth one hundred dollars. Only one pattern 'half union' is known to exist. Platinum $100 coins are not technically 'unions'.
- Item of which only one is known to exist.
- A coin struck on which the obverse and reverse are out of alignment.
- Fine details of a coin's design which set it apart from the normal issue.
- Set of coins for any specific year containing one of each denomination of that year.
- A grey inexpensive metal, usually alloyed with copper to make brass coins, but is also used in pure form for emergency coinage when the usual coinage metal is not available due to war or other serious crisis. Much of the coinage struck in Nazi-Occupied Europe was tin-plated zinc.
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